Facebook causing the downfall of all relationships?

We’ve all experienced the diminished boundaries between our friends that facebook allows, but facebook has quickly become a new way to keep tabs on our significant other – whether good or bad. We can make sure our boyfriend or girlfriend is behaving by keeping tabs on the pictures they are tagged in, or we can find out the hard way that they aren’t behaving they way we’d like them to. In “Facebook relationship problems: How social networking and jealousy affect your love life”, the scenarios that cause problems or fights in relationships are discussed. Little things like over or under-sharing, friend requests from old exes, and facebook secrets can quickly transition from cyber problems to real world fights, maybe even leading to breakups. Ultimately, the article says that facebook is causing people to react strongly to what they see in the online behavior of their partners, and online behavior is also negatively affecting the trust level between partners in relationships.While the article is clear about the idea that “facebook itself isn’t to blame for the demise of domestic bliss”, it makes it clear that facebook can create a need for much better communication between people, in relationships or not.

In my opinion, the story claims to present us with a fair evaluation of the role facebook (or other social media) can play in our lives, but realistically it misses the mark on many points. I think that article uses facebook as a scapegoat for people with relationship problems, and gives the impression that without facebook these relationships would all succeed. In Donath and boyd’s article, they talk about the difference between becoming friends online with real close friends vs. becoming friends online with acquaintances. They explain,”the number of strong ties an individual can maintain may not be greatly increased by communication technology… but that the number of weak ties one can form and maintain may be able to increase substantially” (Donath and boyd 80). Using facebook may increase the communication and ties to people we would otherwise not be very close with, but it shouldn’t be affecting our close relationships, like those with a significant other.

To get closer to the truth, I think the article should have discussed the connection between online and offline relationships with a person, and how that line has become more and more blurred as facebook use increases exponentially. The article should have touched more upon how, “part of what makes the negotiation of friendship on social network sites tricky is that it’s deeply connected to participant’s offline social life” (boyd 18). What you write on someone’s wall on facebook can translate to real life conversations – whether that causes laughter or anger. And in this articles case – jealousy!

Like Life 2.0, the article provides some real life examples of how jealousy has seeped into relationships through facebook. Some marriage counselors are gaining new clients as couples seek therapy to deal with the rifts and jealousy that have been sparked by facebook use, but in contrast to second-life, marital issues due to facebook have more to do with types of interaction, instead of hours logged on the site. The non-privacy of facebook can even cause problems for couples after they break up, like fighting over pictures still up of them together, or even causing asthma attacks for a jilted lover.

While some blame social media for relationship problems (for example caused by jealousy on facebook), some are grateful for social media to bring people together that would have never met otherwise (couples that meet and start relationships on second-life), it seems clear that social media is affecting our relationships with everyone around us. The article tries to maintain that facebook isn’t simply the cause of breakups and jealousy, and that these problems existed without the help of facebook, it seems clear that facebook is definitely speeding up and exacerbating issues that relationships already suffered from, acting as a highlighter of sorts, pointing out things we may not have noticed as much otherwise.

To continue this research, I think that researchers definitely need to try to maintain intimate relationships over facebook or other types of social media to understand fully how real emotions are affected by virtual actions. We can’t effectively study and understand the role of social media unless we participate in it – especially in a negative way. There is no way to completely understand how a relationship can be jaded by jealously on facebook unless we experience it – but participatory observation certainly seems to be the only way to truly research social media as it constantly evolves and changes, especially since the types of social media and the way we facilitate our relationships on it evolve faster than we can test and research our theories.

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2 Comments

  1. ljp282

     /  February 23, 2012

    The idea of participant observation in the context of how virtual relationships can go wrong strikes me as intriguing. How can matters of the heart really be measured? Who is going to volunteer to have their heart broken? It all sounds like the plot of a bad Katherine Heigl rom-com (or maybe Kate Hudson, a la How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days). To me, this type of tortuous experiment might be compared to other kinds of testing we only reserve for lab rats. Unfortunately, rats can’t recount for us their online dating experiences. It’s analogous to sending foreign correspondents into the middle of war zones: after all, Pat Benetar said “Love is a battlefield”. It all points to a larger issue of the limitations we have on the kinds of research we perform. Surveys and statistics can only prove so much, but we might have to rely on narrative experiences of people who’ve already felt the painful scorn of their Ok Cupid matchups rather than try and actively engage in participant observation ourselves.

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  2. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 24, 2012

    To respond to Lucas’s comment – just want to clarify that there’s a distinction between the method of participant observation and the method of experimentation. Participant observation attempts to document social processes as they occur naturally – so it actually would be closer to talking to people who have already experienced online relationships than to taking volunteers to enter the relationships in the first place. To be precise, participant observation would probably involve the researcher actually joining an online community and observing the relationships that form there during the researcher’s participation. You’re absolutely right that every method has its limitations (we can’t totally trust that we know what’s going on in people’s heads when we observe them, nor that they will tell us the truth when we ask them), but you both also make good points about the affordances of the different methods you discuss. (Ok methodology geek-out over!)

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